It was great at the Strokes' sold-out concert Friday at the Greek Theatre to see taste-maker KROQ-FM (106.7) using its influence to help turn young rock fans on to something more substantial than Blink 182 -- and it was even better to see some 6,500 fans respond so enthusiastically.
That's not to say that the Strokes, who also sold out the Greek on Saturday, are necessarily great themselves.
The New York quintet has already earned a place in rock history for helping open the door to a generation of exciting and passionate new bands, including the White Stripes and the Hives.
One of the more intriguing questions in pop these days, however, is whether the Strokes will eventually be a chapter or a footnote in this movement.
Through a combination of wardrobe (a new-wave, thrift-store chic that photo editors love) and a sensual, minimalist sound that critics have cherished since it was popularized in the '60s by the Velvet Underground, the Strokes came along at the precise moment in early 2001 when the always-hyperventilating British rock press needed another "next big thing."
When adventurous rock fans there embraced the Strokes, the search was on for other bands that also had distinctive stances and drew upon such '60s rock values as introspective themes and melodic tunes. That led to equally lavish attention on such other newcomers as the Stripes, the Hives and the Vines.
The buzz in England was so strong that it eventually caught the ear of U.S. record company and rock radio station executives, including KROQ-FM, which helped promote the weekend shows. Many of these execs -- surely bored stiff by the drab, derivative nature of the rock-rap and angry rock bands of recent years -- began championing the fresh new acts. By September, even increasingly conservative Rolling Stone finally put one of the new bands (the Vines) on its cover and declared that rock 'n' roll was back.
At the Greek on Friday, you'd like to have thought the shrieks of delight from the young female fans when the Strokes took the stage was for the renewed rock spirit -- the Greek is the biggest local headline date for any of these new groups. But the cries of affection were more likely for lead singer Julian Casablancas. His cuddly good looks and shy, understated demeanor are ideal for the Strokes' music, which is all about coming of age.
In the group's "Is This It?" album, which has passed the 500,000 mark in this country, Casablancas is always trying to make sense of things around him, especially relationships. Like young people of every generation, he's not sure if his biggest problem is that no one seems to understand him or that he doesn't understand his own impulses and needs.
He puzzles through these and other questions, on stage and record, in a rather soft monotone that is frequently buried beneath the slashing guitar-driven musical textures, making it all the more vulnerable and enticing. The music itself is highly melodic and appealing at times. "Last Nite," a radio hit for the band, has enough of the surface shadows of the Velvets that it could be passed off as a lost Velvets track from 1967.
The good sign Friday was that the Strokes played the song -- and such other inviting ones as the grittier, defiant "Barely Legal" and the especially tuneful "Someday" -- with a toughness and bite that suggested the group hasn't been lulled into complacency by the media attention. They know they still have everything to prove.
But can they?
The Strokes played a few new songs that presumably will be on the group's second album, yet they were inconclusive. In most cases, the numbers seemed simply like extensions of what the band already gave us in "Is This It?" They don't correct the band's main weakness: depth.
The fact that the Strokes' lyrics seem to be a soundtrack for young people is encouraging. This is what rock 'n' roll should be -- not merely the dead-end frivolity and calculation of so many rock acts from the late '90s. But great young bands must go beyond surface concerns to speak about adolescent issues in ways that remain absorbing or revealing years later.
There is so little of that revelation in a song such as "Last Nite," however, that it is already beginning to sound like an oldie. It could easily be mistaken for something from, say, the Cars' 1979 album "Candy-O." To be a leader of the new rock, the Strokes need to dig much deeper and tell us much more.